Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the heel bone (calcaneus). Pain can be felt on the back of the heel at the attachment of the tendon, along the length of the tendon, or at the base of the calf where the tendon attaches to the muscle. Swelling is not always present with this injury, but it may occur in severe cases.
Tight or tired calf muscles, which transfer too much of the force associated with running onto the Achilles tendon. Not stretching the calves properly or a rapid increase in intensity and frequency of sport training can make calf muscles fatigued. Activities which place a lot of stress on the achilles tendon, such as hill running and sprint training, can also cause Achilles Tendinitis. Runners who overpronate (roll too far inward on their feet during impact) are most susceptible to Achilles Tendinitis. Runners with flat feet are susceptible to Achilles Tendinitis because flat feet cause a ‘wringing out’ effect on the achilles tendon during running. High arched feet usually absorb less shock from the impact of running so that shock is transferred to the Achilles tendon. Use of inappropriate footwear when playing sport or running e.g., sandals, can also put an extra load on the Achilles tendon. Shoes are now available that have been designed for individual sports and provide cushioning to absorb the shock of impact and support for the foot during forceful movements. Training on hard surfaces e.g., concrete, also increases the risk of Achilles Tendinitis. Landing heavily or continuously on a hard surface can send a shock through the body which is partly absorbed by the Achilles tendon. A soft surface like grass turf helps to lessen the shock of the impact by absorbing some of the force of the feet landing heavily on the ground after a jump or during a running motion.
Achilles tendonitis typically starts off as a dull stiffness in the tendon, which gradually goes away as the area gets warmed up. It may get worse with faster running, uphill running, or when wearing spikes and other low-heeled running shoes. If you continue to train on it, the tendon will hurt more sharply and more often, eventually impeding your ability even to jog lightly. About two-thirds of Achilles tendonitis cases occur at the ?midpoint? of the tendon, a few inches above the heel. The rest are mostly cases of ?insertional? Achilles tendonitis, which occurs within an inch or so of the heelbone. Insertional Achilles tendonitis tends to be more difficult to get rid of, often because the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac right behind the tendon, can become irritated as well.
If Achilles tendonitis is suspected, avoid any exercise or activity that causes the pain. It is advisable to see a doctor promptly so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment recommended. The doctor will take a full medical history and will ask about the nature and duration of the symptoms. They will perform a physical examination of the affected area. Ultrasound scanning may be used to assess damage to the tendon or surrounding structures. Occasionally MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be recommended. The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis are often similar to symptoms of other conditions such as partial Achilles tendon rupture and heel bursitis. This can make diagnosis difficult and a referral to an orthopaedic specialist may be required in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made.
NSAIDS like ibuprofen are often prescribed to help manage the pain and inflammation. Steroids are often recommended when patients do not respond to NSAID treatment. They are often most effective when injected directly into the inflamed and swollen area. Physiotherapy is a great way to stretch and strengthen the Achilles tendon. A good physical therapist will also teach the patient techniques which give better foot support during exercise (taping, wrapping, etc?). Orthotics, assistive devices and insoles can be used to cushion and cradle the arch of the foot during the healing process. Shock Wave Therapy. This is the newest form of treatment and uses concentrated sound waves to stimulate healing in the affected area. This form of treatment is reserved for heel pain that is unresponsive to other forms of treatment.
Most people will improve with simple measures or physiotherapy. A small number continue to have major problems which interfere with their lifestyle. In this situation an operation may be considered. If an operation is being considered, the surgeon will interview you and examine you again and may want you to have further treatment before making a decision about an operation. Before undergoing Achilles tendonitis surgery, London based patients, and those who can travel, will be advised to undergo a scan, which will reveal whether there is a problem in the tendon which can be corrected by surgery. Patients will also have the opportunity to ask any questions and raise any concerns that they may have, so that they can proceed with the treatment with peace of mind.
Achilles tendinitis cannot always be prevented but the following tips will help you reduce your risk. If you are new to a sport, gradually ramp up your activity level to your desired intensity and duration. If you experience pain while exercising, stop. Avoid strenuous activity that puts excessive stress on your Achilles tendon. If you have a demanding workout planned, warm up slowly and thoroughly. Always exercise in shoes that are in good condition and appropriate for your activity or sport. Be sure to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon before and after working out. If you suffer from Achilles tendinitis make sure you treat it properly and promptly. If self-care techniques don?t work, don?t delay. Book a consultation with a foot care expert or you may find yourself sidelined from your favourite sports and activities.